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An Albuquerque police department gang unit called the Repeat Offender Project was trained at a shadowy federal Department of Energy site in the desert, according to journalist Max Blumenthal. The ROP unit, notorious in the city, had a moment of national infamy when video of its officers shooting an unarmed homeless man without provocation surfaced online. Blumenthal reports:
Within the Albuquerque police department, a little-known elite unit serves as a de facto clubhouse for some of its most violent members. It is a hyper-militarized anti-gang force known as the Repeat Offender Project, or ROP. For the past two decades, the team has chosen a hangman’s noose as its symbol. As Jeff Proctor reported for Albuquerque’s News 13, “The [ROP] team plastered the ominous insignia all over its wanted posters, internal memos and other documents.”
ROP members are drawn increasingly from SWAT teams, dress in plainclothes and function separately from the rest of the police force. Its leadership has refused to publicly disclose the names of officers in the unit. According to Proctor, a number of ROP officers have been funded by the New Mexico State Police “to receive training that has its roots in preparing soldiers for America’s wars in the Middle East and elsewhere” at a Department of Energy military training ground in the desert.
“I think of [ROP] like a fight club,” civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy remarked to Proctor. “They truly are cowboys. There’s no supervision, and there’s no chain of command. The ROP team does whatever it wants.”
Though it is only comprised of a handful of members, the ROP is responsible for at least one out of every 10 officer-involved shootings since 2005. The videotaped shooting this April of a mentally ill homeless man, James Boyd, by ROP detective Keith Sandy was far and away the team’s most notorious killing, sparking a storm of protest and forcing a national spotlight on the Albuquerque police’s culture of brutality.
No officers were held accountable for the killing of James Boyd. In response to sustained community protest, officials have promised to disband the ROP unit, but its officers will likely remain on the force, militarized federal training and all.